Tove Lo doesn’t mean to be political. When the 30-something-year-old singer flashes stadium-size crowds, co-writes songs with Pussy Riot, and muses casually on bisexuality and the idiocy of traditional domestic life, she isn’t giving the world some sort of intentionally cheeky shrug of put-on rockstar chill. It’s all part of an inherently Swedish, and decidedly Tove Lo, understanding of the world.

“A lot of the things that are considered controversial here are just sort of how it is in Sweden,” she explains.

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Tove Lo (pronounced too-vay-loo) was born in a small town in the south of the country. Shortly thereafter, her family moved to “a fancy suburb” outside of Stockholm, where she quickly learned to cloak her rural accent to avoid teasing. “Maybe that was the first sign I was musical because I could mimic their accent so quickly,” she says.

Obviously, she was onto something. This month she released her fifth studio album Dirt Femme, a sweaty and frenetic study of the intersection of identity and love, laid out along 12 tracks of electro-pop, continuing a prolific and consistent string of radio-ready projects.

Dirt Femme embraces its status as the inaugural album on Pretty Swede Records, Tove Lo’s newly minted independent label, which was born in response to the ever-shifting landscape of the industry. “The way we consume music has changed, and everything just constantly feels so new. I wanted to take a new step too,” she says.

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Perhaps as a result of her newfound independence, on Dirt Femme it sounds like Tove Lo is finally getting to exhale. She embraces a myriad of topics she’s never covered before, gracefully bouncing from questions on motherhood (“So let me talk this through, if we had a baby, you’d love them more than me?”), to the trauma of past disordering eating, and confessions of unabashed love on wistful, escapist ballads like, “True Romance” and “Cute and Cruel,” the latter of which features fellow Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit.

The album’s name is a nod to Tove Lo’s current understanding of her own femininity, something that’s become more clear to her after shedding a desire to fit into the music industry’s boy club.

“When I started out, I thought being a strong woman was leaning into my more masculine traits,” she says. “And I think that made me view my traditional feminine traits as weaknesses, which they’re not, at all.”

She also celebrates a new love for the vessel she’s in, citing “years of therapy” to achieve the body acceptance she feels now. The single “Grapefruit” is the first time she’s openly discussed her past experiences with eating disorders.

Being so naked on stage and flashing my tits and shaking my bare ass is like a little small personal victory for me every time,” she says.

Despite its touchy topics, the album is topped with a glittery c’est la vie sentiment. At moments it embraces uninhibited indulgence, but in true rockstar-fashion, it cuts out the lingering guilt of the next-day hangover with blaring 80’s-infused power pop. Tove Lo’s ability to convey both universally pleasing hedonism and deeply personal anecdotes is something she first learned as a member of Wolf Cousins, the famous Swedish collective of songwriters and producers, founded by producer Max Martin.

Tove Lo
Photo: Getty

“I always thought songwriting would be my career and then my music would be kind of like my indie career on the side,” she says. (In 2015, she wrote Ellie Goulding’s inescapable “Love Me Like You Do” for the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack). “It’s something I’ve talked to Charli XCX about.”

Her inimitable pen game is also a direct result of Sweden’s progressivism. As a teenager, Tove Lo attended Rytmus Stockholm, a public high school devoted entirely to the pursuit of music careers.

“The student debt isn’t anywhere near what it is here. You can go for it without being like, scared that it will, you know, ruin your life,” she explains.

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While in school, teenage Tove Lo’s Walkman rotation oscillated from hometown hero Robyn (“I will always and forever be a Robyn fan”) to grunge staples like Nirvana, Hole, and Silverchair. She cites her best friend’s older sister, who “wore studs and dyed her hair,” as her first foray into music outside of pop.

The way we consume music has changed, and everything feels so new. I wanted to take a new step too.

“I just remember being like, that’s what I dream to look like,” she says. “The music itself was honest and angry and sad, and I was like, ‘This is just so cool.’”

While Tove Lo’s current blend of EDM and pop has become omni-present in mainstream music, her first huge hit, 2008’s intemperate anthem “Habits (Stay High,)” came out nearly ten years ago.

“When I first started putting out my own music, I didn’t expect it to go as far as it’s gone,” she says. “My drive for making music is all about if I can just make music and live off of it. If I can, I’ll be happy for the rest of my life.”

This article originally appeared in Harper’s BAZAAR US.